What was the Battle of Nish (1443)?

Introduction

At the Battle of Niš (Battle of Nish) (early November, 1443), crusaders led by John Hunyadi captured the Ottoman stronghold of Nish (now Niš, Serbia) and defeated three armies of the Ottoman Empire.

The Battle of Niš was part of Hunyadi’s expedition known as the long campaign. Hunyadi, at the head of the vanguard, crossed the Balkans through the Gate of Trajan, captured Niš, defeated three Turkish pashas, and after taking Sofia, united with the royal army and defeated Sultan Murad II at Snaim (Kustinitza).

The impatience of the king and the severity of the winter then compelled him (in February 1444) to return home, but not before he had utterly broken the Sultan’s power in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania.

Background

In 1440, John Hunyadi became the trusted adviser and most highly regarded soldier of king Władysław III of Poland. Hunyadi was rewarded with the captaincy of the fortress of Belgrade and was put in charge of military operations against the Ottomans. King Władysław recognised Hunyadi’s merits by granting him estates in Eastern Hungary. Hunyadi soon showed and displayed an extraordinary capacity to marshal his defences with the limited resources at his disposal. He was victorious in Semendria over Isak-Beg in 1441. Not far from Nagyszeben in Transylvania he annihilated an Ottoman force and recovered for Hungary the suzerainty of Wallachia. In July 1442, at the Iron Gates he defeated a massed Ottoman formation of 80,000 men led by Sehabbedin. These victories made Hunyadi a prominent enemy of the Ottomans and renowned throughout Christendom, and were prime motivators for him to undertake in 1443, along with King Władysław, the expedition which became known as the long campaign with the Battle of Niš as one of the battles of this campaign. Hunyadi was accompanied by Giuliano Cesarini during this campaign. The Crusader army consisted of 25,000 or more troops and 600 war wagons. Hunyadi took 12,000 cavalry to locate and defeat Kasim Pasha. Władysław and Brankovic were left in camp with the war wagons.

The Battle

The battle for Niš was not one battle, but five different battles. The first engagement was a battle against a small garrison in Niš and the Crusader capture, pillage, and burning of the town. This was followed by three different battles against three different Ottoman armies advancing on Niš. Finally there was a battle against the remnants of the three Ottoman armies.

The last battle took place on the plain between Bolvani and Niš on 03 November 1443. Ottoman forces were led by Kasim Pasha, the beglerbeg of Rumelia, Turakhan Beg and Isak-Beg. After the Ottoman defeat, the retreating forces of Kasim Pasha and Turakhan Beg burned all of the villages between Niš and Sofia. The Ottoman sources explain the Ottoman defeat as due to a lack of cooperation between the different Ottoman armies which were led by different commanders.

Aftermath and Legacy

According to Chalcocondyles, “Weary after Hunyadi forced the Ottomans to retreat in the Balkans in 1443, the old lords hurried on all sides to regain possession of their fathers’ fields”. One of them was George Kastrioti Skanderbeg who deserted the Ottoman army along with his nephew Hamza Kastrioti and 300 loyal Albanians and after capturing Krujë started a twenty-five-year-long struggle against the Ottoman Empire.

Murad II signed a treaty for ten years, and abdicated in favour of his son Mehmed II. When the peace was broken the next year, Murad returned to the Balkans and won the Battle of Varna in November 1444.

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